This year more than ever, I’m trying to remember the lesson of Autumn and its Equinox:
Everything changes. And: Hold the light and the dark.
I’ve been learning this lesson for decades, lifetimes it seems. But it began when I was 24 and my 21-year-old brother died on the spring equinox.
Before my brother’s death, when faced with adversity, I hid. In food. In fantasy. In TV and books and booze and crushes. In dieting. In geographical relocations. In the ever-present promise to myself that tomorrow, I would morph into a better version of me. Tomorrow, I would finally start to live.
But my brother’s death was too big for this strategy.
Staring into the maw of my own grief, I had to make a choice. I could try to escape this loss, but it might kill me too.
Or, I could decide to enter the pain.
It felt like diving into an ocean of ache. Like there was no bottom; like I would never surface; like I might drown in my own longing.
But I stayed. One breath at a time, I stayed.
I raged that my only sibling could die on the first day of spring, a day that represented growth and promise.
I wrote letters to my dead brother. I whispered his name into the night sky, searching for signs. I bargained, naming everything I’d trade if I could only have my baby brother back. I talked to others who were grieving.
Every once in awhile, I felt a shift. A relief. A hint of light. A sigh of hope. This was measured in months, years. There was no quick-fix, just a slow, stretching lesson.
The equinox, I discovered, was about light and dark. About how one doesn’t mean much without the other. About how if we train ourselves not to hide from the dark, we might uncover a more textured, light-soaked version of ourselves.
But 21 years later, I still sometimes forget.
My mind wants permanence, certainty, answers, absolution. A definitive plan.
Yeah, right, the universe reminds me over and over again. I was reminded of this last year when my dad died unexpectedly. And I’m reminded this year as we face a global pandemic that has, like grief, no clear end in sight.
This autumn, in Maine, the chill comes early. The bite to the air a promise, a warning: winter is coming.
Again, I grieve.
For all the lives lost in the pandemic, directly and indirectly.
For my children’s former normal, now shattered.
For my uninterrupted days of writing, that I now must tuck into corners because my kids are in hybrid school.
But this is still how we survive: one breath at a time.
Because tomorrow, a chill might settle in.
Tomorrow, it might grow dark impossibly early.
Tomorrow, someone who I love, who is alive today, might not be alive tomorrow.
Tomorrow, my strong muscles might weaken.
Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
So we can wish time away, or we can escape in any of the myriad ways humans have fashioned to escape, but I’d rather not. I’d rather acknowledge. Grieve. Tweak. Accept. Embrace. Repeat, untidily.
I’d rather hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. Dark, light. I’d rather allow them to braid together. To rush through me, to feel the currents of each flooding my veins.
Sob, rage, breathe, rest, do 15 minutes of yoga, write, snap at my kids, take a walk, apologize, make dinner, lie next to my babies as their breath deepens, as their dreams flicker their eyelids, as babies become kindergarteners become middle-schoolers, as the young become middle-aged, as pandemics lash and recede, as we bury someone we love, but with time, come to feel them close sometimes, the essence of them, the one we couldn’t see as clearly when they were wrapped in skin, but that now has its own hue, perhaps a wide, navy blanket, or maybe a chaos of orange and turquoise.
Help me today to feel it all. The sh*tty parts. The awkward becoming. Help me to hold both these truths: that now is the only moment we are guaranteed, and that it’s also just a speck in the tapestry of time.